Important update 12/2/2015
I’m receiving a lot of comments saying “food before one is just for fun.”
This is WRONG and DANGEROUS. Babies 6 months and older need solid foods, particularly foods that are high in iron. Breastmilk does not meet their iron needs. The potential danger of iron deficiency is permanent brain damage. I’m not saying this to scare people off of Baby Led Weaning, just to educate you about this danger so you can proceed safely. For more information, please read this article and it’s accompanying scientific sources.
When a fad diet or health trend comes along, we all want to get the whole picture before diving in head first. Right?
Baby Led Weaning is the latest trend in infant feeding. If you’re thinking of trying it out, you should definitely know the dangers that come with it.
What Is Baby Led Weaning?
If you haven’t heard about it, Baby Led Weaning is about giving babies control over their food. It’s about letting them play with food, figure out that it’s food, get it into their mouths on their own, and figure out how to swallow it. It’s letting babies self-feed.
To quote www.babyledweaning.com, “it’s ‘baby-led’ in the sense that you let them do what they need to do while they’re learning, and as the parent you resist the urge to get wound up in knots about how much they’re eating, whether they like the food you thought they’d like and whether it’s smushed into the nearest curtain. The main thing is… it’s all good clean (messy) fun.”
This sounds good, and many parents will fall over themselves to tell you how great Baby Led Weaning is. But before you start, be aware of some of the inherent dangers of what’s being advocated.
What Are the Dangers of Baby Led Weaning?
1. Not getting the right foods
Many Baby Led Weaning enthusiasts will tell you that your baby should eat what you are eating. It makes meals so much easier, your baby is motivated to eat what he sees you eating, etc. Sounds great!
The problem: babies have specific nutritional needs. You probably don’t eat meals that are tailored to a baby’s diet.
Babies over the age of 6 months need lots of iron. More than an adult man needs. More than breastmilk provides. Preventing iron deficiency is the main reason for starting solids between 4-6 months. I’ve spoken to many mothers who are implementing Baby Led Weaning with their children, who are not aware of this important nutritional need.
Some of the high-profile Baby Led Weaning people do highlight this need. This is great! Unfortunately, this information is not trickling down to everybody in the community. Just check out this discussion! The owner of that page, which has over 28,000 likes right now, says “No need for you to worry about iron… Just keep breastfeeding.”
That is just dangerous advice. Especially considering it’s done against the advice of that child’s pediatrician!
The good news is that you can benefit from the principles of Baby Led Weaning, while getting your infant enough iron.
Just make sure that all of your family meals incorporate a high-iron food, and feed your infant those foods specifically. Let’s say you whipped together some delicious burrito bowls for dinner that are made with black beans. The beans are a good source of iron, so setting some aside for baby is a great way to include her in what the family is eating AND focusing on her specific nutritional needs.
Be especially aware of feeding your baby red meat. Red meat is the most important food for your baby, because it’s so high in iron.
For more info, check out my follow-up article, 3 Things Baby Led Weaning Gets Right.
2. Not eating enough solid foods
Babies at six months are just beginning to learn how to grasp objects between their thumb and index fingers (called the pincer grasp), which enables them to get it into their mouths easily. Most babies aren’t accomplished at the pincer grasp until 9-12 months. Most likely they will grab with their entire hands, and that makes it tricky to get food into their mouths.
Baby Led Weaning advocates emphasize being relaxed about what your baby is eating, which is a great ideal, but it introduces the potential problem that your child will not eat enough solid foods if he hasn’t developed the pincer grasp.
One mother told me that her baby didn’t eat solids until 8 months, because he just didn’t get the food into his mouth. I cringed!
If your child has not develop the pincer grasp and you are not supplementing their own eating with spoon-fed purees or by placing food into their mouths, they will not be getting the nutrition they need. Especially iron.
I cannot emphasize this enough, folks! Babies need iron!
3. Choking hazards
I’ve heard mothers who are practicing Baby Led Weaning talk about giving their babies relatively large pieces of food, like grapes and entire stems of broccoli. In this study, parents who practiced Baby Led Weaning were interviewed, and 30% reported choking episodes. Most were caused by raw apples.
This is fine, if you’d like to practice the Heimlich manoeuvre on your baby……
Adults have a lifetime of practice when it comes to swallowing, so it’s easy for us to forget how complex the process really is! Since our memories from infancy don’t stay with us on a conscious level, we can’t remember what it was like to have to learn to swallow.
Do you remember the first time you had to swallow a pill? I do! It was so tricky to figure out exactly where to place the pill on my tongue before taking a swallow, how much water to douse it with, and what to do if it got stuck! What size was the first pill you were given? It was most likely a tiny pill, not some gigantic horse pill.
4. Too much sodium
An infant’s body is designed to work best on a low sodium diet (an infant’s sodium needs are low and breastmilk is conveniently low in sodium). Since the infant’s body is expecting to receive a diet low in sodium, her kidneys efficiently recycle sodium back into her body. Contrast that to an adult’s kidneys, which filter out excess sodium.
If your infant is eating a diet identical to yours, there’s a very real chance she will be getting too much sodium for her body.
If the table food your family eats is essentially salt-free, I applaud you. Just skip this section. But if you’re like the majority of people in North America, the food you eat on a regular basis is too high in sodium for an adult, nevermind an infant.
Feeding solids to your baby can be a lot of fun, or a lot of stress! You want to feed your baby healthfully, safely, and without headaches. But it can be stressful to wade through the advice of your parents, your friends, and a million online articles, much less figure out the unique needs of your baby.
Too bad you don’t have a trained professional to help… right?
Well you do now!
And the best part is, this trained professional is offering help, absolutely FREE!
As a Registered Dietitian it’s my job (and passion) to help everybody have a happy and healthy relationship with food. This includes babies!
So I want to help you take the guesswork out of feeding your baby. Using my training, education, and experience, I’ve created an online program to be your guide.sign up now!
This isn’t a “do this or else” type of guide though. I’ve provided you with all the background evidence to help you decide what’s best for you and your baby. This ensures you can make an informed decision, without having to worry whether there’s a solid scientific foundation for your feeding choices. Years of expertise went into compiling this collection of knowledge! From purees to baby led weaning, this membership covers it all!
Additional reference: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3509508/
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